Saturday November 08, 2003

Powers of Ten

One of the coolest coffee table books of all time is Powers of Ten.
Back in 1968, designers Charles and Ray Eames made a 10-minute documentary film, titled Powers of Ten , showing what the universe looks like at different scales. Philip and Phylis Morrison were scientific advisors on the movie, which Philip narrated, and it was chosen in 1998 for preservation in the National Film Registry, which selects "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant motion pictures" for preservation. The Morrisons' book translates the film onto paper.

Starting with a view of a billion light-years, the book (like the film) moves inward, with each page being at one-tenth the scale of the previous one. In 25 steps, you're looking at a picnic by the shores of Lake Michigan, then plunging into a human hand, down through the cells inside it, the DNA inside the cells, the atoms inside the DNA, and the subatomic particles inside the atom. By the time you've gone a total of 40 steps, you're in a world of quantum uncertainty.

There is no better guide to the relative sizes of things in the universe, and no better teacher about what exponential, scientific notation really means. --Mary Ellen Curtin

[c.f. editorial review for the book version of Powers of Ten by Philip Morrison, Phylis Morrison, Office of Charles & Ray Eames ]. Also available on DVD.

Now, the Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida has recapitulated Powers of Ten as a Java applet (also available as a Windows screen saver).

View the Milky Way at 10 million light years from the Earth. Then move through space towards the Earth in successive orders of magnitude until you reach a tall oak tree just outside the buildings of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida. After that, begin to move from the actual size of a leaf into a microscopic world that reveals leaf cell walls, the cell nucleus, chromatin, DNA and finally, into the subatomic universe of electrons and protons.

Java works so nicely on Mac OS X :-)

Powers of Ten ( in category SciTech ) - posted at Sat, 08 Nov, 18:46 Pacific